The holidays are a challenging but potentially profitable time for restaurants. Demand picks up, as does competition from other restaurants. This holiday season, restaurants may be struggling, trying to get back in the game after COVID-19 restrictions have caused restaurant dining activities to fluctuate in never-before-seen ways. That’s why developing a robust holiday marketing plan well ahead of time is crucial for success at this time of year.
Don’t worry if you’re not sure where to start. I’ve got some great restaurant holiday promotion ideas that can help you stand out from the crowd and build lasting customer relationships this holiday season!
Get the tools and guidance you need to find new customers and keep your regulars coming back for more.
1. Send a holiday card
This restaurant holiday promotion idea is probably the most simple yet, also the one least remembered.
Sending a holiday card to wish customers a happy holiday season, and let them know about your holiday promotions, is not only simple but also inexpensive.
Motivate customers to spend part of the season with you by offering a BOGO coupon or small gift card. Keep mailing and printing costs down by creating a postcard version of your holiday card and get more bang for your marketing buck by repurposing this content on different platforms.
If you don’t have physical addresses for your regular customers, think about adding that information to your restaurant’s loyalty program signup (for next year’s marketing campaigns) and in the meantime, send an ecard or share your holiday card on your social media channels.
2. Offer a special family takeout meal
During the holiday season, your restaurant can offer customers the gift of time by taking care of a special holiday meal. You can put together some of your most popular dishes or go off-menu and create a takeout menu brimming with traditional favorites.
You’ll also need to decide if you want to offer hot takeout meals or dishes that your customers can heat up at home. Don’t forget dessert!
Share your takeout promotion on social media early in the season and encourage customers to schedule their holiday meal pickup well in advance so you can plan accordingly and create maximum anticipation.
3. Create a special holiday menu
Invite customers to come out and enjoy your limited-time holiday menu. It’s up to you to decide if you’ll replace your standard menu with your holiday menu or offer a short list of additional holiday specials.
While this restaurant holiday promotion idea takes a bit more planning and prep, it can be just the thing to get customers who haven’t been around for a while to stop in just to try what’s new or what’s only available for a limited time.
To get the maximum effect, tease your seasonal menu on social media by revealing some of the details, but promise some holiday surprises for customers who dine with you.
4. Offer a holiday gift with purchase
One of the most effective restaurant holiday promotion ideas is to offer a small bonus gift certificate with the purchase of a larger gift certificate. The smaller certificate entices the buyer to come back to your restaurant at a later date — when they’ll likely order more than the certificate covers by itself.
Besides the BOGO certificate, there are other things you can give away as a means to thank your valued customers, while enticing new customers to try your restaurant. Here are a few ideas:
- Exclusive glass or beer stein with purchase of a holiday drink special
- Free dessert with purchase of an entree
- A branded calendar for the upcoming year
Promote your holiday gift-with-purchase campaign through email, on your website, in print advertisements and mailers, and throughout your social channels.
5. Incentivize your staff
Remember, your staff members are juggling their own busy holiday schedules outside of work. And, if your holiday promotions work as you hope, you’ll be keeping busy all season long — which is great for revenue, but a potential recipe for stress for your workers.
Boost staff morale and increase sales by incentivizing your staff by:
- Offering bonuses for servers who sell the most holiday drink specials or gift certificates
- Partnering with another restaurant and hosting holiday parties for each other’s staff (so your staff doesn’t have to work for their own party)
- Holding friendly competitions for best holiday socks, best holiday sweater, or whatever else fits your brand and will bring more cheer
Find small ways to let them know how much you appreciate their help all year. Whether you give them little gifts, special awards, or some paid time-off, there are lots of things you can do to boost morale and incentivize your staff to go the extra mile for you and your guests.
If you’re not sure what your staff would like as an incentive, ask them. Getting their input lets them know that you value their opinions and that alone can boost morale.
6. Target your best customers with an exclusive gift
Choose a handful of your most frequent, loyal customers and give them an exclusive, high-quality gift. For example, commission an exclusive, branded holiday ornament or a box of mixed chocolates and give the gift to them during their next visit, or if you have their address, send the gifts to their homes or offices.
Be sure to include a handwritten note thanking them for their loyalty, letting them know how much you enjoy seeing them at your restaurant, and encouraging them to order catering for their holiday meals or come in for your special holiday menu. While this promotion is more expensive per customer than other options, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy a high rate of engagement with this technique.
While you’ll be reaching out to a targeted group of customers, consider establishing some parameters that qualify customers to join the elite group next year. Then, you can share images of the gifts on social media — along with information on how new customers can earn their place in next year’s elite holiday group.
7. Introduce a holiday savings coupon book
Issue a coupon book or page of coupons with weekly deals throughout the holiday season. For example:
- Week one: Free appetizer with the purchase of an entree
- Week two: BOGO free holiday drink specials
- Week three: Dessert to-go with the purchase of an entree
- Week four: Percent off discount
- Week five: Gift certificate for future dining with purchase of dinner and a drink
Make sure you include a mix of discounts that appeal to different customer segments. This promotion is well-suited for print advertising, but you can also create a digital version of this campaign for email and social media.
Offer printable coupons as well as coupons customers can pull up on their smartphones. You can also send out text messages to remind customers of each week’s holiday deal.
8. Partner with a local charity
Support a local nonprofit and build goodwill in your community by sponsoring a toy or coat drive. Act as a collection point for the drive and promote your involvement through email and social media. You might also consider reaching out to local media for more publicity.
Another way to support several nonprofits at once is by donating a percentage of sales to different charities on specific dates. Publish your list of dates on social media and in your print advertisements, encouraging customers to come in for a great meal and a great cause.
Promote your charitable partnerships with an email campaign that introduces customers to your partner charities. Include links for customers to make direct donations — this will underscore your authenticity in addition to helping some deserving local organizations.
9. Offer limited-time holiday desserts for pick-up
If your restaurant has a pastry chef or a fantastic dessert crew, showcase their talents by offering holiday pies, cakes, cookies, and other treats available to order and carry out. Invite customers to order their desserts for family gatherings all season long.
Spread the word through email marketing, print ads, and social media. Include gorgeous photography of completed desserts to entice customers to place their orders as soon as possible.
10. Host holiday-themed happy hour events
Of all the restaurant holiday promotion ideas on the list, this one is probably the most versatile as each night should have a different theme, they can also have varying plans and executions.
Start by creating a calendar of holiday-themed happy hour events like World Holiday Trivia Night or Reindeer Games Night. Then plan how you’re going to host the event. Will it be in-person, online, or a combination of the two?
Yes, I said online. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic restricts our ability to gather, you can get creative and find ways to power on safely — including hosting a virtual event where your bartender walks attendees through how to make a special holiday drink. Just distribute the list of required ingredients and tools in advance so everyone can follow along.
With well-planned and neatly executed holiday happy hours, you’ll foster a festive atmosphere throughout the season and give stressed-out customers a fun break.
Promote your happy hour events in all the usual spots (email, social media, and print ads). After each event, feature photos of the fun on your social accounts — along with text inviting people to join the next one.
Make the most of the holiday season
The holiday season poses many challenges for restaurants. Customers and staff are being pulled in many directions, and your competitors may be stepping up their marketing game as well. You can stand out from the crowd by offering your customers recognition, appreciation, and ways to make their busy holiday season a little less expensive and stressful.
And of course, remember that no matter how you decide to get creative with your promotions this holiday season, keep your staff and customers’ safety top-of-mind. Restaurants operating during the COVID-19 pandemic face a special challenge this holiday season. Always keep local regulations and CDC recommendations as a priority when developing your holiday marketing plans.